news ~ pop icon david bowie returns to outer space

This morning the world woke up to the sad news that pop-pioneer David Bowie had died, aged 69 after an 18 month battle with cancer. The artist, who released his 25th studio album 'Blackstar' only last week, enjoyed a career spanning over five decades, with five UK number one's and a string of hugely successful albums.

For some modern day pop-stars, it seems any form of chart success is enough. They take their money, feed the tabloid machine and eventually embrace the sweet, sweet inevitable of "didn't you used to be that guy?" obscurity, In rare cases, however, this is not enough. An artist will emerge of such authenticity, of such heart and love for what they create, that they leave a mark of both cultural and musical significance. They inspire, they change lives; it's certainly not a common thing, but then neither was the mind of David Bowie.

A one man rock and roll revolution, Bowie was one of the first major pop stars to embrace an androgynous appearance in the 1970's, Whilst this artistic pioneering went on to define his career, his was a long journey which began with a series of skiffle and rhythm and blues bands in the 1960's. This, coupled with a series of low-paid acting jobs and a debut solo album left mostly ignored, would be the height of the teenage Bowie's success; that is until July 1969. Devastated by the break-up of his then girlfriend, Bowie poured his heart into a story about an astronaut lost in space, The single was released just days before the first moon landings. As the world looked towards Neil Armstrong and that iconic moment in human history, 'Space Oddity' would act as the soundtrack, in Britain anyway.

As the single gradually began to loose momentum, the turn of the 1970's proved a golden opportunity for change and reinvention. Inspired by the likes of Lou Reed, Bowie began to see the link between art and music clearer than ever before. Reed's group, The Velvet Underground, were managed by Andy Warhol and their tales of sexual freedom, drugs and liberalism proved a major influence on the next stage of Bowie's career. The American avant-garde art scene was exciting. This was a new America, a post-war America and that had a profound affect on the newly married musician. He soon began openly cross dressing, shocking audiences with his hair long and androgynous style. It was around this time he released his next album, 'The Man Who Sold The World', which would see it's title track immortalized by Nirvana over twenty years later.

Shortly after the release of his next album, 'Hunky Dory', (which appropriately included the mammoth hit 'Changes') Bowie would go on to change the game forever. Coming out to the music press as bi-sexual in an interview with Melody Maker, he then took the step of perfecting his alter-ego. Now set up with a solid touring band, which he christened 'The Spiders From Mars', Ziggy Stardust was born. He died his hair red, made his trousers tighter and painted his face into the iconic stripes the world would soon come to know him through; and so he set about writing his story.

A homoerotic, bisexual, alien-rock superstar, 'Ziggy Stardust' was a revelation almost immediately. Having since gone on to influence characters like 'Vince Noir' in the cult comedy The Mighty Boosh, Bowie's scope of influence from this period was mammoth, but whilst the concept remained brilliant, could the music possibly live up to it's back story? Thankfully it did, as 'The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars' went gold shortly after it's release in June 1972.

Glam-rock was now alive and David Bowie was becoming a bigger name than ever before. He took Ziggy Stardust to America, where the hype continued to grow, though all was not well behind the scenes. As the songwriter's plaudits and fan base began to escalate, so too did his drug habit, inspiring his next album 'Aladdin Sane' (A pun on 'A-Lad-Insane'). It was his first album as a bona-fide rock star and eventually went to number one.

It was always going to take a big single to uphold the Ziggy Stardust legacy of the past couple of years and in 'Rebel Rebel' Bowie had another classic at his disposal. After 'Rebel' and it's subsequent album 'Diamond Dogs' success he moved to America, where his drug habit soon got out of hand. After a brief return to acting and the release of yet another album (the R&B influenced 'Young Americans', which gave him his first US #1), Bowie's next move was to relocate to Berlin. Here he hoped to continue to evolve his sound, whilst kicking his drug habit as best he could.

He would, of course, go one better and in October 1977 the album '"Heroes"' was released. The title track, which featured Brian Eno, would go on to become one of the UK's most memorable and iconic pop songs ever. The imagery of two lovers kissing 'by the wall' remains one of the most potent of the era and indeed, of any Bowie song.

As a new decade and the era of the music video loomed, David Bowie continued to reinvent himself. In 1983 he released the platinum selling 'Let's Dance' album and further mainstream adoration ensued. There was no doubt ~ David Bowie had secured his place in pop history, as a new generation embraced the London natives' music.

David Bowie's twenty fifth and final album 'Blackstar' was released two days before his death. On his final single 'Lazarus' he opens with the lines "Look up here, I'm in heaven, I've got scars that can't be seen". 

In typical style, Bowie bows out of this world in real artistic fashion. A true great, we here at Encore NI will be playing his records a little bit louder over the next few months. We hope you will to ~ there can be no greater tribute to one of the most dynamic artists of the 20th century.

Taylor Johnson

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